Public Papers

Remarks at the Points of Light Awards Ceremony


Please be seated. Well, thank you, and welcome to the East Room. Barbara and I are very proud to be here with such an impressive group. And may I single out our truly special guest, Michael Jackson. I haven't seen so much excitement around here since Gorbachev came for the first time. Today we also want to extend a particularly warm welcome to members of our Cabinet, Dr. Lou Sullivan, Secretary Martin, and to the judges of this year's award: our ACTION Director, Jane Kenny; Rabbi Naiman of the Council of Jewish Organizations; our distinguished Surgeon General, Dr. Antonia Novello; James Renier, chairman and CEO of Honeywell; and thanks to Anita Baker and Frances Hesselbein who couldn't, regrettably, be with us today.

My special thanks to the Points of Light Foundation and to ACTION for their help with these awards. And welcome, also, to the board members of the Commission on National and Community Service. And the warmest welcome to you all who make up the very heartbeat of our country, our volunteers. And a special welcome to our guest presenter today, a friend, our unparalleled Olympic golden girl, Florence Griffith Joyner. Thank you for being with us.

Flo-Jo is here, and she's in reasonably good shape, but where's your husband who's trying out for -- Al, right here, sitting down here. Got to give the man equal time. But we're delighted he's here. Flo-Jo wants everyone to work out, and she's targeted lazy Americans. [Laughter] I don't know why you're laughing, all of you, but anyway I guess with all this PC talk we should call them exertionally challenged. And she is going to wipe out couch potatoes, and I'm going to get her started on broccoli.

I am here today to talk about something that's really very personally important to me and Barbara. You all know I love music, Anita's always been a favorite. And I especially love country music because it gets to the heart of the basic decency and compassion and heartbreak of people who are proud to call themselves Americans. Well, Randy Travis has a line in one of his songs, called ``Points of Light'' incidentally, that's like a spotlight on an answer for us. And he sings, ``There are dreamers who are making dreams come true, giving hope to those without. Isn't that what this land's all about.'' I'm sure most of you have heard that song. But those are profound words.

And you see, for all the good that Government can do, and it can do some good, to solve our country's social problems, we need people. We need every individual to respond to the problems right around them. And when each American is no longer willing to accept that someone on their street or someone in their town is homeless or jobless or friendless, then that's when we will truly renew America, when everybody understands that they're going to help their neighbor.

We already have shining heroes in this quest, and I call them Points of Light, as you know; I think everyone does now. And that's the name of Randy's song. And there are Americans in towns and cities just like yours across the land discovering that service to others is a rich source of meaning in life. And I honor these men and women and children for showing the better angel of their nature by volunteering to help others. They sum up the great and generous land that we have. They see the genius of this land and ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Day in and day out, these Americans wage our war for human life and dignity. And they don't say, ``This is why I can't help.'' They say, ``This is why I can.'' And they say, ``Maybe I don't have money, but I have time,'' and ``Maybe I can't help someone build a house, but I'm a good listener; I care.'' And we celebrate that spirit. Whoever you are, you have something to share. For Americans are the greatest natural resource of this, the greatest Nation on Earth. And I am proud to be here for this very special, very important event.

We come together today at the culmination of National Volunteer Week, honoring the millions of Americans who transform communities across the country through voluntary service. In particular, for the 11th year, we recognize with these awards the inspirational example of people who meet a simple three-part test. One, they looked around. Two, they saw a need. And three, they filled it.

What a cross section of wonderful Americans are represented here today among these 21 winners of the 1992 President's annual Points of Light award. There are individuals like my seatmate -- all but one -- at the luncheon, 17-year-old Robert Zamora who created the Getting Busy Teen Club as an alternative to gangs in east Los Angeles. And there are businesses like IBM which gives its employees encouragement and time off to volunteer, and 90,000 of them do.

And our winners represent neighborhoods, places of worship, every kind of group across this broad and good land. They and all the others like them are shaping a Nation whose goodness grows out of the small acts of consequence made by many people.

America's pioneer days are not behind us. And we still have frontiers left to cross, the thrill of adventure yet to discover, an American renaissance yet to speak. I believe there are five core elements of the new America which are reflected in the award categories. And let me just share with you how some of our award winners are drawing us closer to each goal.

First, I believe every community must have excellent schools and a culture that fosters lifelong learning. Well, Kentucky's Berea College students saw a critical need right around them in the Appalachia, and so they volunteered as mentors and tutors to tutor grade school kids all the way up through adults struggling to overcome illiteracy. It started with the young, worked right on through those illiterate adults who needed help.

Second, every community must be a decent, drug-free, and safe place to live. Well, 1,800 members of the Emmanuel Reformed Church saw the need around them, joined with their city of Paramount, California, and started tackling the crises that threatened their neighborhood, like gangs and illiteracy and crime.

A third one: Every American community must offer quality health care for all. Well, 24 labor unions out in Omaha saw the need of families whose children were hospitalized for transplant operations. So, these unions joined together to buy a building, and then more than 500 skilled union volunteers renovated it to house these families.

The fourth example: Every American community must offer its members the hope of good jobs with a future. Well, Urban Miyares can tell you firsthand about this need. A Vietnam vet who became blind, he found there were no business counseling services available to people like him, and he received training and now volunteers to provide job counseling to people with disabilities.

And the fifth one: Every American community must be a place with a commitment to children, youth developing good character and values, and strong families. A Pennsylvania group called Magic Mix saw the needs of two generations and brought latchkey kids and at-risk students together with residents of local nursing homes who tutor, teach, and befriend them.

With role models like these, I am confident that together we can shape our future, not through our fears but through our dreams. And yes, we're going to continue to work for legislation to make this a safer America, fairer America, a better educated America, a more efficient America. But the most important legacy of all is one that each person in this great country can help create, the legacy of a more caring America.

Now, look closely at our world. People say the problem is crack or crimes or babies having babies. Those are only symptoms. The problem is a moral emptiness. And if, as President, I had the power to give just one thing to this Nation, it would be the return of an inner moral compass, nurtured by the family and valued by society. This compass would guide us to value every life. It would show us that each life lost to despair really devalues us all. And it would remind us that caring and conscience are what make us human.

So, let's make this National Volunteer Week an extraordinary moment in our Nation, our communal commitment to a true American renewal. And I urge each of you to step forward, to take this country's future in your own hands and become a Point of Light. And I ask leaders of businesses, places of worship, schools, neighborhoods, other organizations to lead their members toward the bright goal of service.

Wherever people from all walks of life work together and claim their community's problem is their own, they create communities of light to guide this Nation's path. As you cross this land, I'd ask you to remember some special words. Recently, Barbara and I had the magnificent honor of meeting Mother Teresa again. Her very life speaks only of service to others. And I was touched by her words. She said, ``It is not how much we do, but how much love we put into it.'' May Americans continue to put love into all our works.

Bar joins me in saying congratulations to you and the millions more like you across America for what you do. You are an example for the rest of this country. And may God continue to bless this wonderful Nation in these troubled times.

And now, Barbara and I will present the awards, and I will ask Flo-Jo to come up here to do the honors and read the citations. Florence, all yours.

[At this point the awards were presented.]

Let me just say I want to now turn to the last item on the program, and I want to give special thanks to Michael Jackson for being here to help honor all of you today. Michael's work with disadvantaged young people and those with disabilities reflect his profound commitment to children. And I am delighted to recognize him as a Points of Light ambassador.

Michael, we wish you well, sir, as you bring light into children's lives, something you feel so strongly about as part of the Points of Light movement. And now, I want to put you on the spot. If you'd like to say a few words, the floor is yours, and we welcome you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:25 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to entertainers Michael Jackson and Anita Baker; Frances Hesselbein, president and chief executive officer, Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management; and U.S. Olympic gold medalists Florence Griffith Joyner and Al Joyner.